Re: RARA-AVIS: Chandler on anonymous hardboiled narrators?

Date: 24 Aug 2003


Re your comment below:

> This sounds very familiar to me, too, but I couldn't
> find it while
> flipping through Chandler Speaking. However, it
> occurred to me that
> Bill Pronzini said something very similar when
> discussing writing his
> Nameless Detective and how he finally had to give
> him a first name,
> Bill, when writing one of his collaborations,
> Twospot, with Collin
> Wilcox, in order to avoid the problem you mention.
> Pronzini talks about
> why his detective is Nameless in the preface to
> Casefiles (even denying
> that he is trying to capitalize on the Continental
> Op), but I'm pretty
> sure he discussed the problem that led to naming
> Nameless at greater
> length somewhere else (which, I think, included an
> example very much
> like yours -- the need for a name to address when
> Wilcox's Lieutenant
> Hastings talked to Nameless on the phone).
> Unfortunately, I don't
> remember where.

It's interesting that Chandler would pooh-pooh the idea of a nameless first person narrator, since his first story written in the first person, "Finger Man," featured a nameless narrator.

Chandler's first PI character was a Chicago detective named Mallory, who comes to Los Angeles for one case
(Chandler's very first story, "Blackmailers Don't Shoot"), and stays on for a second "Smart-Aleck Kill."
 These were written in the third person.

He then decided to develop a new first-person character, similar to Mallory, but who operated out of LA rather than Chicago. In the first story, as I said, he wasn't named. A few stories later, he was referred to as "Carmady." When Chandler moved from BLACK MASK to DIME DETECTIVE, he took the character with him, but changed his name to John Dalmas. Whe he graduated to novels, of course, Carmady/Dalmas became Philip Marlowe.

Two of the Carmady stories, "Finger Man" and
"Goldfish," and two of the Dalmas stories, "Red Wind" and "Trouble Is My Business," were reprinted in THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER with the names changed to "Philip Marlowe" (or in the case of "Finger Man," the name
"Philip Marlowe" inserted). All of the other Carmady/Dalmas stories were combined and expanded into Marlowe novels.

Because of an experience I had, I've often wondered whether Carmady's going unnamed in "Finger Man" might have been inadvertent. In the first story I wrote about a character named Dan Sullivan, I fully intended to refer to the character by name, but when I was reading over what I regarded as my final draft, I realized that Dan, who narrates the story, never refers to himself by name. And I tried to include, all attempts just seemed like obviously shoe-horning the information in, so I just sent it out, and have been very careful to make sure Dan gets referred to by name in all subsequent stories.

In other words, it's a lot easier to forget to mention the name of a first person narrator than people realize.


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